words have a big impact

Have you ever had an exasperated thought to yourself, 'why is ______(insert name) being so difficult?'. You may have actually voiced this out-loud on the odd occasion. The reality is that the person is not difficult, it's their behaviours that are, and they are often only difficult in a given context. There can be strengths for those behaviours if the context changes. Take for example the behaviour of 'arguing at work' - in the context of customer service this behaviour is not okay, but if you hire a lawyer to act on your behalf and they don't argue at work you would find another lawyer in a heart-beat. So remember:

There are no difficult people, there are only difficult behaviours, and they are only difficult in a given context. 

One of the ways to remember this is to shift into strengths-based language. 

Focus on strengths

When we are in the middle of a tough conversation, where we've separated the person from the behaviour, we've directed the conversation using three-point communication, it is key to make sure we keep coming back to strengths-based language. 

Have you ever seen someone as calm/relaxed/laid back instead of lazy?

An ideas person rather than opinionated? The latter are unhelpful traits rather than using helpful personal strengths language.

Here’s a list of unhelpful traits against more helpful strengths-based language. Now before you go rolling-your-eyes and thinking 'can't we just tell them they're being an idiot??'. Of course you can...but it's unlikely to achieve the results that you are after from this conversation. The reality is that there are strengths in the person in front of you - it just might be that the strengths need to come out in different behaviours in this current context. 

ACTIVITY: Top 5 strengths

As a bonus activity before you step into the conversation pause for a moment and reflect on the top 5 strengths of the person you are about to have the conversation with (I promise you there are 5!). Consider how these strengths show up in their job, and then rate them on a scale of 1 - 10 about how often they get a chance to play to these strengths - from 1 (NEVER) to 10 (ALL THE TIME). 

What might you both be able to adapt to enable the person to be playing to their strengths more often. You'll have a more engaged team player if you can navigate this conversation: 

DOWNLOAD this handout to go through this activity. 


Focus on strengths-based language during the conversation and aim to have the other individual playing to their strengths in the workplace more often. 

Let's unpack how to get them involved during the conversation through ENGAGEMENT. 

Just before we do here's some:

Extra Goodies: 

Marcus Buckingham is an expert in strengths-based approaches with organisations all around the globe. For the past 10 years he has been leading a strengths-revolution asking people to spend more time in their jobs playing to their strengths. 

This short video gives you a snap-shot of Buckingham's theory and approach and is relevant in any leadership role.